LNG Fast-Track Bills Threaten Landowners, Salmon, and the Climate

Nick Engelfried

Existing hurdles to approval of pipeline permits were designed to protect citizens, and legislators of both political parties have a responsibility to prevent citizen rights being eroded.

With the legislative session kicking off this week, Oregon lawmakers should protect private land and our state’s natural resources from an egregious case of big energy corporations trying to overrule the needs of communities. Allies of the liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry are looking to introduce legislation to re-define the word “applicant” for wetland removal and fill permits, so they can more easily move forward on unpopular pipeline projects that threaten rural economies.

Though cloaked in the obscure language of land-use permits, the intent of this year’s “LNG fast-track bills” is clear. Giant energy companies are trying to pull a fast one on Oregonians, and it is essential for legislators of good conscience to speak out against this effort.

2011 has seen the emergence of not one but two versions of the LNG fast-track bill—a legislative concept which companies like Bradwood LNG and Oregon LNG have been pushing for years. In 2009 and 2010 other versions of the fast-track bill were defeated in the legislature, and rightly so. Though the exact language differs from one bill to another, each is designed to make it easier for energy speculators to apply for and receive permits for pipeline construction on private land—without prior permission from landowners.

This is perhaps first and foremost a land rights issue. Though clearly designed to accommodate the LNG industry, the fast-track bill would change the permitting process for every project on private land that requires a wetlands fill permit. Supporters argue it wouldn’t allow companies to set foot on private land without property owners’ consent, but the entire purpose of the fast-track bill is to streamline permitting to allow property rights to be overruled more quickly in the future.

Not only is the LNG fast-track concept outrageous, it’s unnecessary. The Ruby gas pipeline navigated Oregon’s existing pipeline permitting process just fine, and the LNG industry should be held to the same standards. Existing hurdles to approval of permits were designed to protect citizens, and legislators of both political parties have a responsibility to prevent citizen rights being eroded.

However preventing LNG fast-track bills is about more than land rights. LNG projects like the proposed Palomar and Oregon LNG pipelines in northern Oregon and Jordan Cove pipeline near Coos Bay would cut through some of Oregon’s most valuable agricultural land and put small farmers out of business. Yes, building pipelines would create jobs: mainly short-term construction jobs that displace long-term jobs in the farming sector. LNG is an economic non-starter.

LNG pipelines would also transect salmon-bearing streams and create clear-cuts through Oregon’s forests. Finally LNG is an imported fossil fuel with a carbon footprint much larger than domestic or Canadian gas. Opening Oregon’s doors to LNG would set back the green economy and the fight against climate change in our state.

It’s because of all this that LNG has so far failed to make inroads in Oregon. Last year Bradwood LNG filed for bankruptcy, and this month Clatsop County withdrew an important permit for the Oregon LNG pipeline. Having been unable to push LNG through under the current rules of the game, energy companies are now seeking to change those rules.

Two versions of the LNG fast-track bill have reared their heads this session. House Bill 2589 and Senate Bill 265 would delete the current definition of “applicant” for wetland removal and fill permits, allowing private companies to apply for permits without the permission or knowledge of landowners. The other version, House Bill 2206/Senate Bill 261, would expand the definition of applicant with the same convenient implications for LNG. So far none of these bills have been assigned to a committee, but we’ll how long that lasts.

If Oregon lawmakers want another drawn-out fight over LNG this year, I’m confident the public will give it to them. But I hope legislators concerned about public interest will take the initiative early on, and speak out against any and all forms of an LNG fast-track bill. Lawmakers will have to make many tough decisions this session—but this shouldn’t have to be one of them.

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    Transparency statement: over the last few years I've volunteered with a variety of groups in Oregon that oppose LNG projects. In this post I speak only for myself.

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    Ah, the irony. Folks want to import LNG, driven by our desire for cleaner energy. Of course, this increases the cost and decreases the environmental advantage of the natural gas liquefied. At the same time, other folks want to export US coal to Asia, because environmental regulation is laxer there. The trans-Pacific transportation makes the coal more expensive and even more environmentally destructive.

    Of course, the pollution from coal burned in Asia will float across the Pacific and plague us. The CO2 will create the same climate change wherever it is burned. My daughter applies the phrase "epic fail" to such situations. Indeed, greed and stupidity continue to dominate much human action.

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    Would this only affect LNG pipelines? Or would other "regular" NG pipelines be included in their proposal?

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      There are no LNG pipelines. The gas is shipped liquified, but always piped as a gas, as pipelines cannot be kept cold enough [-260 degrees F.].

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